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Friday, October 26, 2018

Giant Steps

Near the end of "Chasing Trane", author Cornel West comments on the difficult music jazz titan John Coltrane created during the last phase of his career. Although West does not deny Trane's avant garde explorations initially alienated him, he also speaks of how his struggles with Trane's late art are more about his own limitations as a listener. Many people I know would scoff at West's statement just as quickly as they would reject Coltrane's final recordings. But I suspect my own intellectual life would be richer if I routinely challenged my own thinking the way Cornel West does.

What did progress mean to Coltrane? And what is the alternative to progress when an artist reaches a level of technical proficiency like Coltrane had by the mid 1960's? Giants like Coltrane, Picasso, or James Joyce all could have chosen - as many have - to repeat their earlier successes, conserving their respective audiences via maintaining an artistic status quo. Instead, each began exploring the outer realms of artistic expression and accepted the commercial consequences. Brave, foolhardy, or both? Though not proud admitting it, in an alternate universe, I'm reasonably certain my own choices would have been conservative vs. progressive.

Still, I've repeatedly reflected on Cornel West's words in the weeks since watching "Chasing Trane". I'm now committed to holding onto his view the next time I uncomprehendingly stare at Picasso's late work or when I'm scratching my head attempting to crack "Ulysses", again. At least I'll enjoy my own company while doing so.


  1. Thanks for the reminder to keep an open mind!

    1. You're welcome; thanks for continuing to read my blog.